Should You Participate In RFIs?
I am pretty sure you have experienced the moments of doubt, uncertainty and stress when deciding whether or not to respond to a solicited federal contract opportunity; to bid or not to bid, that is almost, always the question. Through decades of responding to governmental solicitations, I have encountered many instances that a common agreement by all of the counterparts is extremely hard to reach. Real life is never black or white; there are always advantages and disadvantages and making the final decision in a gray-scale reality, in many cases, is a courageous move.
It is even more so when the solicitation in question is an RFI (Request For Information) with no immediate tangible ROI (Return On Investment). Some strongly disagree, highlighting the time and effort compromised on a somehow uncertain path. They say we just can’t afford to respond to an RFI; what we have is a formula for committing resources to an activity that, on paper, will bear no fruit.
Others emphasize on positive aspects of responding: “RFIs are invaluable tools for industry to help shape the government in their formal requirements development, Statements of Work (SOWs) or Performance Work Statements (PWS) content, and initiate the process of implementing real solutions for federal needs. We should utilize the opportunity to our company’s advantage. Demonstrate reliable case study-type scenarios in which benefits have been realized by our existing customers…”
As in many other instances in business, there is no right or wrong answer to this; a genuine unique decision must be made in any certain case. However, based on my experience, one thing I can say with relative certainty is that if you have locked on a business opportunity that you find fit to your business, you should start preparation as early as possible to ensure your winning hand and safe margin ahead of your competitors.
Just like any other initiative, reaching your goals in a federal contract opportunity correlates directly with the amount of time and effort you put towards reaching it. You have to read the requests, actively and vigilantly participate in shaping the requirements, ask the right questions and provid quality professional feedbacks and comments. Also, you have to find the right in-house staff or subcontractor, as appropriate, or the teaming partner in some cases. All this takes time to reach the optimum solution and win. Chances of winning an opportunity increases by nearly 60% if you start your proposal preparation project upon RFI or Sources Sought release instead of waiting for the last minute risk assessment decision.
During my sophomores and junior years in collogue, I used “standby” plane tickets for Christmas travels. Using the least cost effective solution and waiting at the gate until the last minute, not knowing for sure if you would have a seat on the plane or you have to wait for the next plane, back then, was somehow fun. But nowadays, when I have a business meeting to attend, I would reserve a seat in business class way ahead of time making sure not to miss my plane and the potential opportunity that I have to realize in the meeting. Starting your proposal in the RFI phase is in a way like making a reservation instead of using “standby”; it might not seem economical, but in many cases, it is more feasible. The difference is that if you don’t start on time, you might end up having to wait for the next Federal Business Opportunity.